We are the only species in history that gets to decide whether or not to evolve. For everyone else, environment forces the issue. Adapt or die. If you can’t deal with warmer temperatures, or colder, or migrate to a place that suits you better, or develop a taste for something you weren’t eating before, that’s it, you lose your place on the planet.
Owing to our opposable thumbs, humans have been more successful at forcing the environment to adapt to us. It’s given us a deceptive feeling of invincibility.
But every species has to pay its bill in the end, and if you can’t foot that bill, you either fade out or the challenge you’re facing eats you, burps and that’s it.
One of the universe’s waiters who’s been standing around holding out a check is our tendency toward tribalism. It’s natural. You could argue that it’s the main thing that got us this far, after those thumbs and a willingness to eat almost anything. Knowing who is “yours” and who is other kept your ancestors safe enough to reproduce up until you. Tribalism has two main components:
- Identity – figuring out who is your tribe;
- Outsiders – figuring out what to do about anyone who isn’t.
Identity used to be easy. Your tribe was the people who were born, lived and died where you did. You might not like all of them, nor they you, but some social structure enabled you to coexist most of the time with those people. You were all related by blood, then as the world grew and changed, you were all related by an idea – religion, nation, etc. Either way, for most of history, the members of your tribe looked generally like you. Your survival depended on knowing who your tribe was and what you could expect from them.
Now, that’s a life’s quest. People move around. Is your tribe people who go to the same church, or people who like the same music, or just people who seem to like you and you like them? It’s harder to tell on sight who is “yours” and who is not.
Outsiders – again, that used to be easier. There are three main responses to the Outsider:
- Kill it.
- Trade with it
- Ignore it.
There are complications attached to all three, but while options 1 and 2 are well-known and discussed, option #3 doesn’t get a lot of coverage. We’ve always had that option. “Not like me” does not equal “and must die.” Those are two different thoughts.
It’s not reasonable to push for a “Kumbaya-and-hand-holding” world. We’re not there yet. Too big of a leap from millennia of “Not like me so trade with it or kill it.” Even “Not like me so trade with it” is only middling embedded in our history. No, option #1 has been the preferred option too many times. From there to “Let’s all love one another!” is like asking a baby to walk to the moon. He’s barely mastered the basics, let alone conquering all the other challenges that would entail. Ask him to walk across the room a few times first. It’s hard enough to work with people you don’t like. Welcoming their presence is too big of a stretch for most of us.
What we need to do, and it will be a conscious choice, is to acknowledge that there will always be The Other, the person who does not share some basic view on how the world works. The idea that there will always be many people not like you in really fundamental ways, that it’s a fact, and doesn’t require anything of you, much in the way the rotation of the Earth doesn’t require you to get out and push, needs to be spread until it’s part of our concept of the world.
The next will be adopting the idea that if you can’t bring yourself to be open to those people, your response should be to just let them be is the next part. We need to uncouple “Not like me” from “so must die.” We need to tell our children, and ourselves, that we have options when it comes to dealing with people who are not like us and killing them isn’t the best one.
If you happen to believe homosexuality, or being Muslim, or Christian, or a woman, or whatever it is you don’t like, is wrong, more power to you. We disagree, but you have a right to think that. And feel however you feel about it all. But unless they try to hold you down and make you join them, that’s as far as you get to go.
Because they are human, and real, and have value, and that isn’t because you awarded it to them. They just have it. You don’t give it to them and you can’t take it away. If your whole ego depends on believing you run the universe on that scale, wow, are you in for some bad days. Your life now probably isn’t much fun, come to think of it – being responsible for the universe is a big, thankless task. Ask God.
Option #1 is a lose-lose scenario. You kill, their tribe comes to kill you, so you kill some of them, so they… until there’s nobody left on one side, or both. Guess again if you think that mean your side is victorious. The land you depend on to live will be decimated. Many of your own, maybe you yourself, will die. It won’t change the other people. It may convince still others to side with them. You will lose all of the things they know that might have made your life better. Even if you are the ultimate victor, your wounded tribe will inherit ashes. It’s a zero-sum game.
And if you think God is waiting to reward you for killing His creations, you need to ask who has been “interpreting” your sacred texts and what’s in it for them – because you are being played like a cheap flute by someone who is using you for his own power and ego gratification.
We have a choice here. We can opt out of evolution, choose to remain not only tribal but violently tribal, and end up in the garbage heap of history, played by people who are using our fears and prejudices to control us for their own gain. Or we can nudge ourselves forward, determined to allow people who are not like us their human worth.
We can try for Option #2 in the hope that this time, it’ll go okay, and make our fallback Option #3, which leaves us alive to pursue our own paths. And if you really don’t like the other tribe, feel free to feel that way. Not like them to your heart’s content. But don’t flash it in their faces, because that’s rude and if you’re really superior, you aren’t rude. And don’t kill them, because that’s stupid and how can one be both superior and stupid?
Let’s just decide to grow up. As individuals and as a species. If we manage it, it will give us more time to do other things that are a lot more fun.